Is it the Alleged Victim’s Fault?

It is fairly standard procedure when a clergy-member is accused to sex abuse for people to blame or accuse the alleged victim. The alleged victim is either accused of lying and making up the whole thing to destroy God’s servant, or s/he is accused to seducing the clergy member and then lying about it.

Unfortunately this practice isn’t reserved for clergy sex abuse. In fact, it is a standard byproduct of denial. And, for all that, denial is a normal response to information that seems impossible. Where this becomes dangerous is when denial persists into unreasonable refusal to accept truth or to deflect responsibility from the one(s) responsible.

Sociological Images: Seeing Is Believing has a great article about how common and widespread this response is. Did you know it is the victim’s fault if her husband beats her (oh, yes – even the church will tell you that), a wife’s fault if her husband kills her children, the economy’s fault if domestic violence rates rise, girls are to blame for internet predators, and women cause sexual harrassment and male lust. This linked article has proof of this widespread problem – check it out.

The heart of this issue is that in each of these types of situation people fail to connect the action with the correct cause. Any perpetrator is fully responsible for his/her own behavior. If this were not true, all of these actions would be universal – all men would have unbridled lust, everyone would sexually harrass those around them, husbands would always kill their children when their wife upsets them, there would be no domestic violence in financially secure families, etc. No victim ever forces the perpetrator to take advantage of them. This is patently ridiculous. Still, the myth persists, adding to the pain of victims everywhere.

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4 Responses

  1. Victim-blaming definitely happens, but I’m not convinced it’s actually occurring in the articles from the SI post. If the headline reads, “Husband murders kids after learning wife is leaving,” how is that blaming the wife? It’s just a description of what happened. Should the headline read, “Husband murders kids after learning wife was reading, but we don’t blame her”? Of course we don’t blame her for leaving him.

    This seems totally different to me than for example the Rhianna situation, where the press used diminutive descriptions like describing it as a “scuffle” or whatever. That was clearly sexist.

    • headlines like that one put cause and effect in to peoples minds. Children are murdered after mother leaves. We know HE did it. We are sure she didn’t think this would happen, but it puts it in your mind that her leaving somehow set forth a series of events that lead this father to kill his children. Therefore she has some responsibility. That’s how victum blaming works. Sometimes it’s outright and bold and sometimes it’s very subtle.

  2. Right! We have to look at the subtle messages as well as the generalized societal beliefs (compounding the likelihood of connecting with and lodging the “subtle messages). One of these beliefs is BJW (Belief in a Just World)–held to tenaciously so people can convince themselves they are safe (If I don’t wear that short mini skirt, I will not get raped…). Another is Victim Blaming (If that wife was more in tune, she wouldn’t have left that abusive husband-she should have known he would kill the kids!)

    Excellent post, Danni!

  3. Interesting issue raised here Danni.
    I can see it from many points of view.
    Firstly, when I was a recently separated woman who had left an abusive husband, I certainly took many remarks my by bystanders and ‘uninvolved’ people as if they were blaming me.
    I think this is part and parcel of the brainwashing and the vortext of guilt that you suffer when you are in abuse. There is almost never anybody who validates you; everyone around you is so keen to tell you what you are doing wrong, and what you ought to do instead.
    So if I had read such a newspaper articles then, I might well have taken it as blaming the victim. ON the other hand, I might have felt a keen pang of understanding and fellow feeling with the wife alluded to in the articles
    But I think many ‘bystander’ readers take that inference that the wife was in some way partially at fault for the husband murdering the children.
    The journalists need to be trained to write about such post-separation violence in ways that CLEARLY point to the violent person’s culpability. However, it could be useful if journalists were to say ‘the man killed his children in the context of a recent separation with his wife. It is not known whether there were allegations of domestic abuse in the couple’s separation, but research shows that the highest risk for a wife being murdered by her husband (and often her children murdered too) occurs when a wife leaves her husband because of his abuse. This would alert the public (and victims) that the risks are very high at separation, while still presenting the facts of the case.

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